May 26--To make sure its doors stay open following the alleged embezzlement of nearly $800,000, the Vancouver Masonic Center is starting up a farmers market.
"It's pretty serious what we're up against," said Jimmy Johnson, who is helping organize the market. "The question was: 'What can we do?' Well, here's what we can do."
The treasurer for the organization, Jesten Jay Galland III, 47, is accused of using the center's account to write checks to himself and his company. Over the course of six years, Galland allegedly zeroed out the organization's bank accounts, amounting to a loss of $798,202.25.
He faces 46 theft-related charges including money laundering, forgery and identity theft. A trial is scheduled for July 21.
The building, located at 2500 N.E. 78th St., is home to 17 charitable organizations that include Masonic groups and youth groups.
The account that Galland is accused of stealing from, Vancouver Masonic Temple Inc., held funds that were used to maintain the building.
But, Johnson said, the organization's work is what was most affected. Washington Masonic Lodge No. 4 and Mount Hood Lodge No. 32 together own 98 percent of the building.
"Ultimately, it takes away from the charity and the scholarships," he said.
So to cover the cost of insurance and taxes on the building, which Johnson said amounts to about $4,500 a month, the members who use the facility have come together to organize a weekly market, calling it the 78th Street Market.
Organizers are planning for the market to have a bazaar feel, and feature vendors who sell produce and artisan crafts, as well as live music.
The market is set to kick off Saturday, with plans for it to run every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Nov. 1.
The idea to host vendors on the 2-acre property is one that the organization has had on the back burner for years.
"We've been thinking about it for a long time," Johnson said. "Everything we have is earmarked for charity. ... We need to make that property at least pay for itself."
The building costs were previously supplemented by using the investment returns from the accounts that Galland is accused of stealing from.
"The trust we have in one another is our greatest asset ... and our weakest link," Johnson said.
But in only three weeks, members of the organization are making the idea a reality. They have a website up and running, www.78mkt.com, and are in the process of securing vendors to rent space in the parking lot. The owners of a neighboring 5-acre plot have given the Masonic center the OK to use the land for event parking.
The quick hustle by his fellow members at the Vancouver Masonic Center is something that Johnson said makes him proud.
"What's really winding my clock is seeing the response people have in the face of adversity," he said. "My hope is the community still loves us and steps up to help."
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